A Few Words From Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Just in, a digital Postcard from Red Cross Volunteer PJ Doyle:

Photo credit: PJ Doyle/American Red Cross
Photo credit: PJ Doyle/American Red Cross

The 2013 Hattiesburg, Mississippi tornado was a large and violent EF4 multiple-vortex wedge tornado that devastated portions of Hattiesburg, as well as smaller communities and rural areas in the same area, during the late afternoon and early evening of Sunday, February 10, 2013.

The tornado moved into the northern part of downtown Hattiesburg, where it caused significant damage to the American Red Cross, roughly 300 homes and other buildings, as well as to the University of Southern Mississippi campus.

Thankfully, there was no loss of life.

Despite the devastation to their own facility, the American Red Cross Mississippi Region staff and volunteers were immediately active in responding to the community.  Within hours, the National ARC also activated teams to support the response.

I have been deployed as a Client Services Casework Supervisor and arrived in Hattiesburg on February 14 and began immediate services to the residents of the area shelters.  Susanne Jacobs, also from Minneapolis, joined the Client Services team on February 19.  Red Cross caseworkers help individuals with immediate, disaster-related needs by meeting them one-on-one to provide guidance and support during their recovery process.

Photo credit: PJ Doyle/American Red Cross
Photo credit: PJ Doyle/American Red Cross

Over the course of the last 10 days, the Red Cross has served more than 20,000 meals, 85,000 snacks and more than 20,000 bulk items such as blankets, clean up kits and other supplies. Nearly 30 individuals remain in shelters in Forrest and Lamar counties in the affected area.

The relief operation is moving now from the response into the recovery stage and client casework is shifting as well. For client services, this means transitioning the work in shelters, outreach and Disaster Recovery Centers into long term individual family casework. Each caseworker will be assigned up to 3 client families to work with as they determine how to return to some semblance of normalcy in their lives.

Additionally, as I send this note (and some photos from the scene) we are hunkered down as the area is under another tornado watch. Mother Nature is active with wind and rain and there is likely to be flooding to further complicate the lives here is Mississippi.

More than 200 Red Cross volunteers are on the job in Hattiesburg from all across the country and in all disaster response disciplines. Each of us are saddened by the destruction to lives and community, but we feel grateful to have the training to be able to respond in a meaningful way.

(Thank you PJ and all of the Red Cross disaster relief workers responding to this disaster. We’re grateful that you’re there helping people.)

We agree with Pawpaw: Storms Affect Families

Ed “Pawpaw” Semmes and granddaughter Corrie Lee, in Picayune, Mississippi, after Hurricane Isaac. Photo & story credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Disaster responders from our Northern Minnesota Red Cross region are home from Hurricane Isaac. Everyone returned safe, exhausted, and rewarded with the gift of helping people during a time of need.

People like Edward “Pawpaw” Semmes, 62, and his granddaughter Corrie Lee, 5. Ed’s family received food and a clean-up kit from the Red Cross once it was safe to return to his neighborhood in Picayune, Mississippi. With his household contents piled high on the lawn, Semmes recalled that they had about five minutes to escape because the water came from “the north, the south, the east, and the west. It came from all four directions.” Inside the house, his son-in-law pulled up ruined flooring. Ed easily kicked in sodden sheetrock. “We understand what others went through because we went through it.”  Only in recent days did he break down and cry. Before he was too stressed about taking care of his family, something he’s always done with great pride, but he was concerned for them, their lost belongings, and the uncertainty of where they’d live. Thankful for Red Cross assistance, Ed (or Pawpaw), said “storms affect families–that’s what it gets down to.”

Red Cross Rick and Karen Campion were among the volunteers who responded to Hurricane Isaac. Image provided courtesy of the Campions.

The Red Cross recognizes this truth. We are grateful to everyone within our Northern Minnesota Region who helped–and continue to help–families along the Gulf Coast. A special thanks to local volunteers who worked on this disaster relief response: Mark, Margaret, Marie, Catherine, Mark, Diane, Marty, Dave, Hildred, Judy, Dick, Amanda, Karen, Rick, Harriet, John, Gordie, David, Claudia, Greta, Steve, Richard, Kris, Susan, Debbie, Eric, Brent and Marian.

Click here and learn more about the Red Cross response to Isaac or about how to get involved with the Red Cross.

Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross